THE DRIVER'S side window on a light-gray Ford Taurus rolled down, and a voice heavy with bass called out: "When's the last time you got locked up, Holmes?"

The words seemed to hang in the humid night air in Southwest Philadelphia on Tuesday as the man who uttered them, Officer Richard "Butch" Riddick, 55, stared blankly at a thin, wide-eyed black man who appeared to be in his early 20s.

For a moment, it looked like the stage had been set for an ugly confrontation, maybe an arrest. The young guy hesitated, then grinned. "What up, Riddick?"

This wasn't a showdown. It was "Butch" doing what he does best: making a guy who might have reason to fear the police feel comfortable enough to let his guard down, and maybe cough up some information on a recent shooting in the area.

Colleagues say that Riddick, who has spent most of his 18-year career working the plainclothes robbery-and-burglary detail in Southwest Philly's 12th District, has made an art form of building a rapport with city residents, including those who end up on the wrong side of the law.

Tonight, he will be honored as the recipient of the 25th George Fencl Award at a ceremony in South Philadelphia.

"He's a special kind of cop, because he could run down the street and lock you up, but afterwards, you would want to talk to him," said Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood.

When Chitwood was a Philly cop earlier in his career, he worked closely with Riddick in the 12th District.

"When we needed information, he got people to come forward and cooperate," Chitwood said. Riddick, a bear of a man at 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, has "a command presence," Chitwood added. "When Butch talks, people listen."

Indeed, nearly everyone whom Riddick called over to his unmarked police car on Tuesday seemed to be all ears. Some shifted nervously while he asked if they knew about the whereabouts of a man linked to a recent homicide.

Others talked about their court cases, or their families. Riddick cajoled some, subtly threatened others. "Time to go, right?" he yelled to a group of scowling teens who were hanging out on a street corner.

"A lot of officers don't have the time to get personal with people," noted Officer Glenn Grabania, who was riding with Riddick.

Riddick, who grew up with nine siblings in West Philly, came to police work late in life. He joined the department at age 36, after a 17-year stint as a SEPTA bus driver.

He was lured to the job, he noted, by his younger brothers, Eric and Eddie Riddick, both of whom are Philly cops.

"I wanted to be a good cop," he said. "It took about five years to really learn how to do the job and get used to the things people do to each other."

Riddick said he learned from Eric, who also works in the 12th District, to develop relationships with people he encountered. He took the lesson to heart.

"I used to give my home number out to everybody," he said. "I had to be in contact with people. I had to help."

An odd collection of characters - from dope dealers to drunks to ex-cons - took to calling Riddick's house at ungodly hours with information on unsolved crimes.

"It was constant," sighed his wife, Joyce. "Finally, he did all of us a favor a few years ago and got a cell phone."

Even though she was irked by the late-night tip calls, Joyce Riddick said she was awed by her husband's commitment to his job and the community.

He often tried to steer drug addicts into rehab programs and help struggling ex-cons find work, she said. "He's a great man," she said, "and a teddy bear."

The kinder, gentler side of "Butch" is reserved for his wife and daughter, Terrell, 30. Riddick's other daughter, Natalie, died in 2005 at age 24 from a heart defect that had been present from birth.

Riddick said he believes he can hunt down bad guys for another five years. In the meantime, he's enjoying the buzz of being a Fencl winner.

"I really never expected this," he said. "It's an honor."